The Astrodome

Loop 610 and Kirby Drive
Architect(s): Hermon Lloyd & W.B. Morgan and
Wilson, Morris, Crain & Anderson
Date: 1965

"THE EIGHTH WONDER OF THE WORLD"

Astrodome…………The Beginning
Opened in 1965, the Houston Astrodome represents the first enclosed multipurpose stadium to be built in the United States. Originally conceived by Judge Roy Hofheinz, president of Houston’s professional baseball team, county judge, and former mayor of the city, the Astrodome was intended to accommodate the city’s professional sports team while protecting them and their fans from the area’s seasonally hot and rainy weather conditions. Judge Hofheinz was one of the original members of the Houston Sports Association (HSA) who managed the Astrodome Complex, which consists of the Astrodome Stadium, the Astroarena Complex (8, 000 seat arena and 150,000 square foot exhibition hall), and the Astrohall Complex (550,000 square foot exhibition hall and 75,000 square feet of meeting space). Located on 260 acres, only 7 miles for downtown, the Astrodome Complex enjoys a prominent status among Houston’s Major developments.

Development Strategy
The goal of the principals involved in developing the concept of the Astrodome was to provide a facility for professional teams that would “combat heat, cold, rain, and mosquitoes,” according to George Kirksey, vice president of the Houston Astros.[1] As mentioned above, Judge Roy Hofheinz became a member of the HAS in the early 1960’s and owned the professional baseball team, The Houston Astros. In the late 1960’s, he sold both entities to the Ford Motor Credit Company. In 1979, the Ford Motor Credit Company sold the team and the HSA to John J. McMullen. HSA operated the stadium, exhibition hall, and the baseball team since the Astrodome was completed in 1965. Drayton McLane, Jr. purchased HSA and the baseball team in November of 1992. The name of the company operating the Astrodome has since been changed to “Astrodome USA.”

Design and Site Issues
Because the Astrodome was the first enclosed stadium ever built, its designers had no prior experience to guide their efforts. The size of the facility and the unique development concept proved a challenge to the design team assembled for the project. Indeed, as construction proceeded, several problems arose with the design and the site. First, hinges connected to the columns supporting the dome’s roof structure were adjusted due to the unforeseen forces of wind and temperature. Because of these forces, which caused expansion and contraction of the building, the dome roof is not actually hemispherical. Adjustments were required to diminish the effects of these forces on the stability of the structure.

The site, purchased by Harris County for $3 million, presented problems relating to soil consistency and drainage. Because the soil was not accommodating to the paving process, a new technique called lime stabilization was performed. This lime surface treatment enabled the completion of the parking lot paving. Storm water drainage problems were remedied through the use of additional pumps during construction.

The site’s location also presented general problems for the development team. For instance, the area surrounding the site lacked an adequate road network to support the increased levels of traffic; the city and state joined efforts to remedy the problem. In addition, the site was not connected to the city’s sewer system; therefore, holding tanks had to be built for use until the site could be connected. Although the construction process required such special solutions as these, the facility was completed in November 1964, nearly six months ahead of schedule.

Designed primarily to serve the needs of the city’s professional baseball (Astros) and football (Oilers) teams, the Astrodome currently has a permanent seating capacity of some 55,000 for baseball, 65,000 for football, and 72,000 for concerts. The entire Astrodome Complex covers 260 acres and includes 25, 000 on-site parking spaces.

Several functional problems that first appeared after completion of the facility affected the performance of participants in sporting events. For example, the facility’s transparent roof allowed sunlight into the building. The sunlight was necessary to allow a special variety of Bermuda grass to grow, but the sunlight caused a glare that inhibited outfielders’ vision while attempting to catch fly balls. After experimenting with sunglasses and orange baseballs, several coats of paint were applied to the skylights on the home plate side of the dome. While this solved the glare problem, the grass began to die. In 1966, the Astrodome introduced an artificial turf, quickly dubbed Astroturf, to replace the natural grass. Today, the astrodome is the only stadium that has two separate turfs, one for baseball and one for football.

Financing
The Houston Astrodome was completed in April 1965, at a cost of approximately $35 million. Additionally, property owners contributed some $4 million of rights-of-way for roadways and freeway, and HSA spent $6 million for restaurants, skybox suites, a scoreboard, and the like. The total cost for all development expenses was slightly greater than $45 million.

There were four bond issues made to finance the stadium. The first, in the amount of $15 million, a second for $3 million, and a third for $4 million were issued in 1961. The fourth issued, of $9.6 million, was made in 1963. Thus, the total bond issues came to $31.6 million. Almost $1.4 million was accumulated through interest payments received while the bond funds were on deposit. Thus, the total available funds approximated $33 million. Additional expenses relating to off-site improvements were absorbed by the city and state.

The original rental agreement between the Astrodomain Corporation and Harris County is $750,000 per year for 20 years, with the rental figures reportedly based on % percent of the initial 1961 bonds issued ($15 million). Harris County is paying the debt service and costs on the other bonds.

The Houston Oilers committed to a 10-year lease arrangement with HSA ending in 1997. Terms of the lease included agreements by HSA to increase the stadium’s regular seating capacity by 10,000 persons making seatable for 65, 000 in the football configuration and to build 72 luxury box suites


--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

[1] “Take Me Out to the Ballpark,” Sporting News (June 1985), p. 122